Suburban voters didn’t just elect Democrats to Congress and the Minnesota Legislature — they drove DFL victories statewide

Tim Walz election night
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
In the Twin Cities suburbs, Tim Walz got 54 percent of votes to Jeff Johnson’s 42 percent.

For Democrats nationally Tuesday night, if there was a blue wave anywhere, it was in the suburbs.

Minnesota was no exception, with Democrats flipping two suburban Congressional seats that had been in Republican hands, and winning enough seats in the Minnesota House — mostly in the suburbs — to take the majority.

But it wasn’t just suburban candidates who saw a bump from suburban voters. At the statewide level, the suburbs helped propel Democrats to victory, too.

Tuesday’s results represented the continuation of a trend in recent elections: as the suburbs turn more toward the DFL, Greater Minnesota has looked more toward the Republican Party. Here’s an in-depth look at the geographic breakdown of the night’s results.

Suburbs break big for Walz

On Tuesday, DFLer Tim Walz beat Republican Jeff Johnson by a sizable 11 percentage points to become Minnesota’s next governor.

Given the past voting history of Minnesota’s biggest cities, a Democrat like Walz should have expected to have a commanding lead in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the urban core.

That’s exactly what happened. Minneapolis and St. Paul made up 13 percent of votes in the governor’s race. Walz blew Johnson away here, with 82 percent of the vote compared to Johnson’s 14 percent.

Greater Minnesota showed an opposite, if less pronounced, preference. Johnson got 52 percent of the vote there, compared to Walz’s 45 percent. Greater Minnesota accounted for 43 percent of the total votes in the race.

And then there were the suburbs.

The suburbs have the distinction of both being big — about 45 percent of votes in this race — and being the wild card in this election. Would voters tie Republicans on the state ballot to President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in particular with suburban women? Or would these traditionally Republican areas stay red? Would voters split tickets, as they often have in the past?

In this race, the suburbs moved decisively toward the Democrats.

In the Twin Cities suburbs, Walz got 54 percent of votes to Johnson’s 42 percent.

Geographic breakdown of gubernatorial vote, 2018
Urban core includes all precincts within Minneapolis and St. Paul city limits. Metro suburbs include suburban Hennepin and Ramsey counties, plus Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington counties. Greater Minnesota includes 80 non-Twin Cities metro counties.
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

Walz’s performance in the suburbs is a big improvement over Mark Dayton’s four years ago, when he and Jeff Johnson were nearly tied there:

Geographic breakdown of gubernatorial vote, 2014
Urban core includes all precincts within Minneapolis and St. Paul city limits. Metro suburbs include suburban Hennepin and Ramsey counties, plus Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington counties. Greater Minnesota includes 80 non-Twin Cities metro counties.
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

The pattern in the urban core and Greater Minnesota were roughly the same, though Dayton ran slightly closer to Johnson in Greater Minnesota than Walz did.

The suburbs made the big difference for Walz. Dayton and Johnson were nearly tied in that part of the state in 2014, with Johnson having a slight edge. In Tuesday’s election, Walz blew Johnson out with a 12-point edge.

When you break governor’s race votes down by Congressional District, Walz won narrowly in his home district, CD1, which he represented for 12 years, and otherwise only won in Twin Cities and suburban districts: CD2, CD3, CD4 and CD5. Johnson won in Greater Minnesota’s CD6, CD7 and CD8.

Votes for governor by congressional district
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

Ellison benefits from suburban bump, too

Part of Walz’s pitch to be the Democratic nominee was his ability to succeed as a candidate in Greater Minnesota. That edge didn’t exactly pan out on election night. So what about a candidate who was expected to face an even tougher climb to win over rural areas of the state?

One of the biggest questions going into election night was whether Keith Ellison, who’s been elected handily to the urban Fifth District, could win statewide. Would Minnesota, a state that nearly went for Donald Trump in 2016, elect a liberal, black Muslim from the heart of Minneapolis?

That became an even bigger question after his former live-in girlfriend raised allegations of emotional and at least one instance of physical abuse.

On Election Day, Ellison beat his Republican opponent Doug Wardlow by 4 percentage points.

A similar pattern manifested for Ellison as for Walz — except that he didn’t do quite as well in Greater Minnesota or the suburbs as the DFLer on the gubernatorial ticket.

But while Ellison did worse than the guv candidate from his party in Greater Minnesota, Doug Wardlow, his opponent, did slightly better. Wardlow got 54 percent of Greater Minnesota votes, compared to Johnson’s 52 percent.

Geographic breakdown of attorney general vote, 2018
Urban core includes all precincts within Minneapolis and St. Paul city limits. Metro suburbs include suburban Hennepin and Ramsey counties, plus Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington counties. Greater Minnesota includes 80 non-Twin Cities metro counties.
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

All told, Ellison’s big advantage in Minneapolis and St. Paul, combined with a small lead in the suburbs, was enough to bring him to victory.

Greater Minnesota gets redder

While the Democrats saw success in the suburbs and in statewide races, they saw losses when it came to Congressional Districts in Greater Minnesota, pointing to a deepening geographic divide between the cities and the suburbs and other parts of the state.

Democrats hoped the fact that Southern Minnesota’s biggest cities — Rochester and Mankato — are growing would help them keep the First District in the blue column.

Not this time. Republican Jim Hagedorn, running for Congress for the fourth time, beat DFLer Dan Feehan by about half a percentage point.

It was another close race in CD1. In 2016, Hagedorn lost to Walz by 0.76 percentage points.

In 2016, Walz ran up his vote totals in the two biggest cities in the district in order to balance out a narrow loss in the rest of mostly-rural CD1.

2016 Congressional results in CD1
Rochester and Mankato categories include all votes from within those cities' limits. Greater CD1 includes all votes from outside Rochester and Mankato.
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

But while Walz did well enough in the rest of mostly-rural CD1 to put him over the top, Feehan didn’t do quite well enough to pull it off.

2018 Congressional results in CD1
Rochester and Mankato categories include all votes from within those cities' limits. Greater CD1 includes all votes from outside Rochester and Mankato.
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

The race was less close in northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District. Early polls had Republican Pete Stauber and Democrat Joe Radinovich neck and neck in a district open after DFL Rep. Rick Nolan decided not to run again, but Stauber broke away with a lead later on.

For most of recent history, it’s been represented by the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party in Congress. But as redistricting has pushed the district further south, and more voters in parts of the state that used to put the “L” in DFL vote Republican, times have changed.

In a 2010 Republican wave, Rep. Chip Cravaack unseated longtime Congressman Jim Oberstar, only to be defeated by Nolan in 2012. But the district went for Trump by 15 points in 2016, and between that and Tuesday’s result, some might conclude the transition from blue to red is complete.

Break down the results, and it’s clear that Stauber added up victories in the majority of counties in CD8 — many of them small — to win, despite Radinovich’s big lead in St. Louis County, home of Duluth.

Eighth Congressional District votes by county
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 11/08/2018 - 01:24 pm.

    It will be hard for rural values Repubs to win anything statewide with all the litmus rests they demand, too few people and too extreme. When you live in communities of diversity, seeing the spectacle of Trump rallies and nasty rhetoric, you just turn the other way. Emmer is a pretty big exception, as he has shown integrity standing up to racists in his district, and even he had little chance of winning.

  2. Submitted by Alice Gibson on 11/09/2018 - 07:07 pm.

    Republicans in Minnesota have two essential problems. First, Minnesota cities are growing in population, while rural areas are declining or static at best. So long as Minnesota Republicans insist on being the party that persistently bashes the cities, they will continue to lose.

    Second, Republicans offer few strong candidates and have a weak bench from which to choose. This election, one had to scroll down the ticket to Secretary of State and State Auditor to find GOP candidates as impressive as most of those the DFL fielded. Among congressional candidates, only Pete Stauber in CD8 stood out as a clearly stronger competitor than his DFL opponent. Further, the Republicans often ”primary” their more moderate candidates, leaving themselves with a weaker general election candidate. Choosing Jeff Johnson to run for governor is an example of this.

    The best hope for the MNGOP to regain statewide strength is to moderate its positions toward its city brethren, and to grow a stronger and more palatable bench over time.

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